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Best Indie Mysteries, Crime Stories & Thrillers of 2019

A wonderfully written crime tale that favorably compares to the work of Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, and Elmore...

FINDING CLAIRE FLETCHER

From the Claire Fletcher and Detective Parks Mystery series , Vol. 1

Suspense novelist Regan (Aberration, 2013, etc.) tells the story of a woman victimized by a twisted kidnapper and sexual predator.

At the book’s outset, readers find out that Claire Fletcher was kidnapped on her way to school 10 years ago, when she was 15. In the very next chapter, set in the present, 25-year-old Claire is in a bar, where she seduces off-duty Detective Connor Parks of the Sacramento Police Department, whose own personal and professional life is in shambles. They have a tryst at his apartment, but she quickly leaves so that she can return to her kidnapper before he realizes that she’s missing; she leaves Connor with her family’s address, trying to let them know that she’s still alive. When he finds out about Claire’s true situation, he becomes determined to find her. He gets help from his buddies on the force and from private investigator Mitch Farrell, an old family friend of the Fletchers. Claire was abducted by a twisted man with a dark past. For years, he’s been tying Claire up and brutalizing her—all the while declaring his love for her and telling her that she will come to love him. Eventually, though, she’s allowed a very small amount of freedom—which she uses to her advantage. Her kidnapper is assisted by a young woman named Tiffany, a runaway who sees Claire as a rival. The story effectively toggles between first-person narration (from Claire’s point of view, in captivity) and a third-person perspective, which usually focuses on Connor. Regan’s pacing is a marvel—one moment, she’s lingering on the grotesque, brutal treatment of Claire, and the next, she shifts gears to show Connor’s frantic pursuit of the kidnapper. The latter is truly a monster, and his portrayal will disturb readers’ sleep. Claire, meanwhile, is believably shown to be gutsy and resourceful under conditions that would crush even the toughest people. Tiffany’s minor role becomes a star performance, mixing evil with apparent innocence.

A wonderfully written crime tale that favorably compares to the work of Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, and Elmore Leonard.

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5420-4610-7

Page Count: 396

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Review Posted Online: Feb. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

An ingenious crime drama seamlessly woven into the backdrop of post–World War II England.

AIR RAID

A WORLD WAR TWO MURDER MYSTERY

From the Toby Whitby series , Vol. 1

An inexperienced British solicitor—tasked with recovering a prominent woman’s missing child—finds himself embroiled in a murder mystery.

In this novel set in England in 1952, Toby Whitby is a newly minted solicitor, awkward and less than inspiring, which makes it all the more unusual when he lands a major case. Lady Sylvia, countess of Southwold, wants to recover her daughter, Celeste, who she claims was abducted by Vera Chapman, a poor village girl. Lady Sylvia conceived the child with Jack Harrigan, an American Army officer who was killed in Normandy in World War II. Since the countess cannot have another baby, Celeste is the sole heir to the considerable Southwold estate. Lady Sylvia was falsely told the child died in an air raid during the war but later discovered otherwise and asked her lawyer, Robert Alderton of Champion and Company in Brighton, to handle the legalities. But Alderton was found dead, violently murdered, and the file regarding Lady Sylvia’s case is mysteriously missing. Since Toby is now the only healthy solicitor at the firm—Edwin Champion is too unwell to manage the matter—he’s saddled with this responsibility. Toby turns out to be smarter than first impressions would indicate, and he begins to suspect that Lady Sylvia’s story is apocryphal, especially after her disgruntled gardener, Sam Ruddle, claims the child properly belongs to Vera. Shortly after, Sam is nearly murdered by a woman, hit over the head just as Alderton was. Whether or not Lady Sylvia is telling the truth, she has a motive to lie. Without a proper successor to the estate, it could become the property of her Australian relatives upon her death. Unmoved by tradition, they would surely sell it for quick cash.  In this series opener, Hodgetts (Imposter, 2019, etc.) adroitly constructs a labyrinthine plot of the best kind—complexly entangled enough to foil readers’ anticipations but not convoluted or impenetrable. In fact, the story races to a stunning conclusion at a relentless pace, a peculiar but artfully plausible tale. At the heart of the narrative is Toby, a delicately drawn character: Diffident and bumbling, he’s also surprisingly perspicacious, charming, and even capable of great bravery. He was forced to sit out the war because of his poor eyesight but still managed to risk his life to save a group of children from perishing during an air raid. The author brilliantly inserts the conflict into the mystery as well. The disappearance of the child revolves around an air raid, and various characters remember that fateful day and, by extension, the wages of war itself, in different ways. And the entire ravaged country is a monument to those dark years, something observed by Toby, who can’t wait to leave: “For the first time in years, Toby was able to assess his surroundings without a paralyzing sadness for the destruction of his homeland; for the historic buildings that had been reduced to dust, for the ruined beaches, and the shattered dreams of a generation.”

An ingenious crime drama seamlessly woven into the backdrop of post–World War II England.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 367

Publisher: Emerge Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

A riveting thriller and a welcome third installment of a series; the author is definitely a writer to watch.

THE EXPERIMENT

This novel poses two tantalizing questions: What happened to a young investigator, and why are people in Half Moon, Vermont, having mysterious health problems?

Jude Brannock, a senior investigator at the animal rights group The Kinship, has given Tim Mains an undercover assignment: Infiltrate the facility at Amaethon Industries and, if the company is flouting the Animal Welfare Act, document it. Tim is not only a rookie, but also Jude’s sometime lover. When reports from him suddenly stop, a worried Jude is off to Half Moon. Right off the bat, she is told that Tim has seduced young Heather Buck and introduced her to heroin (Jude is incredulous, rightly so). But drugs are definitely a big thing in little Half Moon, and soon Jude is nosing around that dangerous scene. Meanwhile, residents are showing up with heavy bruising, nosebleeds that won’t stop, and similar afflictions indicative of blood thinners. Oh, and Jude is having attacks of vision loss. Animals are suffering at Amaethon, but that may not be the worst of it. There may be a biotech disaster connected to the company’s experiments with “plant made pharmaceuticals.” The trials may have somehow gotten out of control. Could the PMPs be causing the rampant hemorrhaging? Jude eventually figures out who is to blame for the medical crisis and tries to bring the bad guys to justice in the hair-raising final chapters. What most impresses in Lamont’s (The Trap, 2015, etc.) third volume of her Kinship series is that things and people are not what they seem. Could Tim be a double agent? And then there’s Heather: The Bucks think that their daughter is innocence personified. A drug dealer named Bobby Gravaux is no saint, but is he a killer? Jude even suspects kindly Dr. John Harbolt of wrongdoing. So the author does a remarkable job of keeping readers off balance. Lamont also clearly explains PMPs, a plot point that involves real-world science, not fiction, and teases readers with the side issue of Jude’s periodic blindness. In addition, the author can deftly summon up a clipped style that reveals character as much as subject. Here Lamont describes a black mutt: “Very thin. Very fearful. And in this state, very dangerous.”

A riveting thriller and a welcome third installment of a series; the author is definitely a writer to watch.

Pub Date: May 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9858485-8-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grayling Press

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

An engaging read that’s right on the money.

THE BANKER WHO DIED

A young American international banker is seduced by high financial stakes—and multiple women—in this debut thriller.

Despite the fact that his marriage is collapsing, Zurich-based investment adviser Stanley McKnight leaves his wife, Christine, to fly to Moscow with Frenchman Pierre Lagrange, the senior managing director of the private Swiss bank Laville & Cie. “Be careful in Russia,” Christine warns him, before he goes. “I’ve heard it can be dangerous. Especially for such a handsome Yankee.” Soon, McKnight takes over the Russian clients of another banker, whose Maserati mysteriously flew off a mountain highway with him in it. Viktor Gagarin, one of the new clients, has an estimated worth of more than $12 billion and, in Lagrange’s words, “a definite tendency towards violence.” Gagarin wants to buy a new megayacht, and he wants Laville & Cie to conduct the deal, provide the loan, afford him anonymity in the transaction, and determine how to minimize his taxes on the purchase. Gagarin’s wife, Mila, meanwhile, sets her sights on McKnight. Although he’s had flings with Russian women, he knows that Gagarin’s wife could mean the death of him. Nonetheless, an adventure involving fast cars, gold bars, betrayal, and torture lies ahead. Lust, intrigue, glamour, and danger fill the pages of Carter’s well-written book. The California-born author’s experience in the Swiss private-banking industry, his many years living in Russia as an investment banker, and his fluency in Russian lend the novel a sense of authenticity. Amid all the banking maneuvering, this rich story offers plenty of shady characters. There are also vivid descriptions (“The tie wagged its tail, briefly flashing a Hermès label to the world”) and attention-grabbing dialogue (“Sweaty is good,” says Mila at one point). It’s a testament to the author’s skill that even as McKnight descends into debauchery and deceit, readers will still root for him.

An engaging read that’s right on the money.

Pub Date: May 27, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73305-002-9

Page Count: 450

Publisher: Garin Ray Publishing House

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

A delightfully complex mystery with a compelling protagonist.

THE WOMAN IN THE PARK

In Sorkin and Holmqvist’s debut thriller, a married woman meets an alluring stranger and later becomes a criminal suspect.

Manhattanite Sarah Rock is certain that her husband, Eric, has been having an affair with his co-worker Juliette. Sarah, who has suffered from depression in the past, is experiencing “blackout periods” and having nightmares about her spouse and his suspected mistress. As a result, she’s been seeing therapist Helena Robin for months. With her two children away at boarding school, Sarah feels like she’s lost her sense of purpose. Then, one day in Central Park, she meets a handsome, charming man named Lawrence. Despite the brevity of their initial, platonic encounter, Sarah can’t get the stranger off her mind, and subsequent park-bench rendezvous quickly lead to an affair. Weeks later, the police visit Sarah to ask her questions about a missing person case. They’re looking for a woman whom Sarah has seen at the park; it turns out that Lawrence may have a connection to her, so Sarah is reluctant to tell the cops anything. More bombshells follow, and after the cops accuse Sarah of a very serious crime, she starts to realize that her sense of reality may be distorted. The authors’ sharply written and persistently tense tale is divided into two parts: The first follows Sarah’s growing relationship with Lawrence, and the latter offers a series of shocking revelations. Throughout, Sarah is an enigmatic, continually evolving protagonist. Readers are privy to Dr. Robin’s periodic notes, for example, which make it clear that Sarah has something buried in her past. Still, Sarah remains sympathetic, as her candid perspective makes her eventual paranoia seem reasonable. Her emotional responses are raw and convincing, as when she cries alone in a parking lot or examines her body for presumed flaws. Some readers will likely foresee a major plot turn before Sarah does, but her valiant attempts to make sense of what’s happening spark unexpected twists.

A delightfully complex mystery with a compelling protagonist.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8253-0899-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Beaufort Books

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

A taut, thoughtful thriller; third in a series but also works as a stand-alone.

VALLEY OF SPIES

From the Dennis Cunningham series , Vol. 3

Just months into early retirement from the CIA’s Office of the Inspector General, a former investigator accepts an agency contract to hunt for a missing person, one who knows his darkest secrets.  

In Yocum’s (A Dark Place, 2018, etc.) third—and best yet—Dennis Cunningham thriller, Dennis finds that retirement and relocation to Perth, home of longtime girlfriend and Aussie policewoman Judy White, offers him a lifestyle so relaxed that it bores him. A mandatory meeting with the director of the CIA, whose flight has a stopover in Australia, livens things up. The director explains that Dr. Jane Forrester, a therapist approved to treat agency members, disappeared while visiting New Zealand. Key members of the CIA determine a specific foreign country is responsible for the abduction, and a counterstrike against that nation is likely. But before authorizing the attack, the director gives Dennis, who has a zest and a rep for tracking people down, two weeks to find Forrester—or discover what happened to her—and to confirm agency intel. The director explains there are lots of reasons why an adversary would want to get their hands on the therapist—she “knows too much about her patients. She knows their weaknesses, their vulnerabilities.” She, in fact, knew Dennis’—she had been his therapist. The search for Forrester reconnects rough-around-the-edges Dennis with his former boss, Louise Nordland. The “tough, diminutive” ex-SEAL and Dennis had issues with each other in the past, but soon (sorry, Judy) sexual tension between the pair ramps up. Yocum skillfully varies the pace throughout this thriller and doesn’t shrink from brutal scenes of killings. Dialogue rings true, and descriptions suit the genre: “He had a pronounced underbite that pushed his chin forward into a reptilian face.” Yocum metes out backstory organically, and his nonstandard characters range from a confident, sexy, blonde amputee to Dennis himself—known for a drinking problem, about to become a grandfather, and still haunted by his own horrific childhood.

A taut, thoughtful thriller; third in a series but also works as a stand-alone.

Pub Date: May 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9978708-3-1

Page Count: 328

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

A thriller that offers a master class in suspense.

THE BURDEN OF HATE

From the Annie Collins Mystery series

In her latest mystery-series entry, Starbuck (No Pity in Death, 2018, etc.) presents a slow-building tale of an escaped killer and a murdered priest.

Operating room nurse Annie Collins and assistant district attorney Angel Cisneros are about to be married when news comes that Ian Patterson, whom they’d been instrumental in putting away, has escaped from prison and is likely bent on revenge. Indeed, at the wedding reception, Ian shoots Angel, just missing his heart, and escapes. Thus begins almost 200 pages of taut suspense. The elusive Ian is always one step ahead of the cops as he taunts Annie with letters and surprise appearances, and Angel and Annie are soon at their wits’ end.  Meanwhile, the Rev. Andrew Bingham, the young priest who was supposed to marry the couple but was called away at the last minute, is later found murdered. Annie gets involved in that case, of course, as she has the soul of a detective. Although everyone seemed to like Father Andrew, her digging unearths some revelatory details about his past. Detail and pacing are Starbuck’s strong suits, and she effectively shows how Ian’s threats of violence affect Annie and Angel’s relationship; their tempers flare as their fatigue and despair grow, and at one point, Annie wants to simply give herself up to Ian to have it over and done with. Indeed, Annie initially involves herself in the investigation into Father Andrew’s murder as an attempt to relieve her unrelenting fear. A final twist in the latter case shows a subtle appreciation of human nature and how relationships can become toxic. Overall, Annie is a wonderful fictional creation, and one hopes that she and Angel become a classic husband-and-wife crime-solving team.

A thriller that offers a master class in suspense. 

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2019

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Routt Street Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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